Easy Credit Is Inflating a Massive Student-Loan Bubble

Those degrees are about to cost taxpayers a lot of money.


Americans are still talking about the recently deflated housing bubble, but there's a new bubble in town. It's the student loan bubble and when this one pops, it might dwarf the wreckage we've witnessed in the real-estate markets.

In the latest news, the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors warned that soaring student-loan debt has "parallels to the housing crisis," according to a May report in Bloomberg. As with housing, free-flowing cash will lead to widespread default. Of course, it's easier to repossess a tract house than to take back a potentially worthless degree.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed these concerns by saying that most of the money in the student-loan sector is federal money, which just means taxpayers – rather than lending institutions – will take the initial hit. But the board of governors makes a salient point as student loan debt soars to $1 trillion and exceeds the nation's level of credit-card debt.

"The bankers said student lending shares features of the housing crisis including 'significant growth of subsidized lending in pursuit of a social good,' in this case higher education instead of expanded home ownership," according to that Bloomberg report. "The lending has put upward pressure on tuition, just as the mortgage lending boom led to rising home prices, they said, calling both examples of a 'lack of underwriting discipline.'"

For my entire life, I've heard policy makers insist that there is insufficient funding for education and that getting a college degree is the pathway to a better life. But as the bankers noted, the sea of student-loan money artificially boosts the cost of tuition, which creates a new cycle of indebtedness by students. Higher tuition makes "pay-as-you-go" a less-likely option.

Lax student loans make it easier for colleges to spend money poorly. If the federal government provides a loan to virtually anyone who applies for one, then university administrations can spend foolishly.  There's so much money, why not hike salaries and pensions for professors? Why not offer programs and majors that are of questionable intellectual or economic merit?

I know people with six-figure loan debt, multiple degrees and few job prospects. There were few lending standards – hey, it's only government money – so they racked up loan after loan. Others use loans to gain useful degrees with lucrative job potential, but these graduates come out of school with a crushing load of debt that will take decades to repay.

In 2012, Congress debated a controversy surrounding for-profit colleges, which receive about a quarter of the total federal Title IV student aid programs. The impetus was the latest iteration of the GI bill for active military and veterans, who often choose for-profit education programs.

"These colleges use high-pressure sales tactics to ensnare veterans, promising them a high-quality education and a 'guaranteed job,' and urging them to sign up on the spot," according to Jerome Kohlberg, in an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They lock themselves into long-term commitments, turn over their GI education benefits and sign up for student loans to cover the difference."

The alleged abuses at some for-profit colleges have reminded some critics of abuses by the subprime mortgage industry. But these problems are almost solely the result of easy access to government dollars. Indeed, public universities do the same thing – lure students into long-term debt commitments based on a free flow of federal dollars, even if they don't use the high-pressure tactics used by some recruiters in the private educational business. For-profit and non-profit universities rely heavily on government tuition subsidies.

Many government employees, by the way, receive automatic pay boosts when they receive additional education, so this government-funded system ratchets up government spending throughout the entire taxpayer-funded system.

When I attended college, only the rarest student stayed on campus beyond four years. Many received degrees in less than four years. Now, it's typical for students to take six years to get through a California State University program. The education establishment claims the problem is the result of too little money, but it's the opposite. There is so much money available to anyone with a pulse that there are too many students on campus and not enough classes for them.

Look at the large portion of students taking remedial courses, which reminds us that more college doesn't always equal a better education.

Given that students who get themselves in financial trouble can't unload their debt through bankruptcy, easy college tuition money can mean a lifetime of personal debt problems. These problems are the result of government officials pushing a social good – i.e., broader college attendance, or, in the real estate market, broader home ownership.

The housing bubble was inflated by government-dictated lending policies designed to expand home ownership by requiring banks to make loans to people who couldn't meet traditional down-payment and credit standards. And government policies designed to expand educational opportunities have inflated the cost of tuition, cheapened the value of education and burdened new generations with crushing debt loads.

Yet those of us who call for less government meddling and more private-sector discipline are the ones considered heartless.

NEXT: The Famous "McLibel" Leaflet Was Co-Authored by an Undercover Cop

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  1. The student loan bubble is even worse, for one reason.

    In a non-recourse state, after foreclosure the problem is over. Even in a recourse state, they usually wont pursue you, and if they do, bankruptcy ends the problem.

    Federally guaranteed student loans arent bankruptable. Thats a gift that keeps on giving.

    1. So much destruction caused by this idea that we can mandate equity for all. Everyone must have a home–massive, economy-shaking bubble. Everyone must have a college education–massive, economy-shaking bubble. Everyone must have total health insurance–massive, economy-shaking bubble.

      1. You misspelled wrecking.

        1. I didn’t want to sound too extreme. After all, technically, the economy is still operational.

          1. Levi. I can see what your saying… Edward`s storry is impressive… on saturday I bought a great new Buick since I been making $9713 this-last/4 weeks and-in excess of, ten thousand this past-month. with-out any question its the most-comfortable work Ive ever had. I actually started 8-months ago and pretty much immediately started to bring home more than $73, per/hr. I work through this website…..
            (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

      2. Socialism is a race to the lowest common denominator.

        1. Yay! That means we’re winning!

          1. Last one to abject poverty is a pussy.

      3. mandate equity for all

        I assume you meant equality, but I will accept that answer too.

        1. Either works. I meant equity in the “fairness” sense.

      4. Seeing those three federally created bubbles listed together would make any sane person question government intervention in private sector.

    2. Federally guaranteed student loans arent bankruptable. Thats a gift that keeps on giving.

      Student loans are the herpes of banking, is what you’re saying.

      1. You keep it forever. Like luggage.


  2. “These colleges use high-pressure sales tactics to ensnare veterans, promising them a high-quality education and a ‘guaranteed job,’ and urging them to sign up on the spot,” according to Jerome Kohlberg, in an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They lock themselves into long-term commitments, turn over their GI education benefits and sign up for student loans to cover the difference.”

    Right, because nobody can be expected to withstand a banner ad or a TV spot. The pressure is too much for anybody to endure!

    Now, what about the military recruiter who made them veterans in the first place? Who told them they would be heroes, that it was the civic duty, and that steered every conversation away from the fact that people would be shooting at them. I wonder how his tactics stand up?

    1. Gawd, KPres, don’t you know that advertising is like…magic or something? That it corrupts the innocent with its colors and pictures and such. Only the strongest of the strong-willed can possibly withstand the offer to buy something that appears on the television.

    2. Right, because nobody can be expected to withstand a banner ad or a TV spot.

      How do you expect people people who have gone through basic training and served in war zones to withstand the overwhelming pressure of advertising? They’ve spent their whole life in a low-stress, warm, comforting cocoon!

      1. I would expect them to be desperately clinging on to what ever expectations are imposed on normal people, to help them not feel the crazy of what they just went through. Being debt poor probably sounds like libertopia to them.

  3. I’m waiting for the bubble to burst to go back and finish my degree. I’ve known for a while that if I want to get a really good job in IT, I have to have a degree. However, when I went looking for a good online IT school, I almost crapped myself when I saw the costs. One was upwards of $60k! Sixty freaking grand for an e-learning system and a rubber stamped degree. And thats just to get the bachelor’s degree.

    1. Qua? IT is probably the industry you can do best in without a degree.

      IIRC, there’s plenty of college drop outs on here. Hell, Snowden is a HS drop out.

      Just look at smaller places where you’re talking to the hiring manager directly, not through HR.

      1. agreed – I have a BS in CS and I didn’t learn any of my programming skills through college. I already had ’em. The degree was just something to get after I decided EE was not for me.

        1. I learned programming skills in college, then started working in the real world and realized my school was about 10 years behind where it should have been. Relearned most of it.

          Learned more in my first month as a sysadmin for said CS department than in the previous 2 or 3 years of being a student there.

          1. There were a bunch of great and important things that I learned in CmpE classes, but I agree, I learned tons more either by myself in high school, during my co-op, or once I got my job.

            There’s only so much they can teach in 4 years, especially when 1/3 of the classes are mandated to be not in your major.

            1. The classes gave me a great foundation of principles upon which to build my programming skills.

            2. For mine, my big disagreement with it was things like teaching OO programming, in the oldest, least-useful style. Actually, OO in C++, was part of it (later some Java).

              But even then, the OO only hit things like inheritance, didn’t even touch on roles or using them for code re-use.

              DB stuff was very light — took an excellent class that really showed how the backend of a DB worked (by writing it) but didn’t really hit SQL at all.

              I guess, really, I look at it as — I was in college right when the tech boom was going. Everything was moving to database backed ORM, with OO. There wasn’t even a hint of that. Just a “This is something you can do. Imagine each row in the table is an object, and each column name is a method on that. Now you’ve got an object with persistent storage” would have been great.

              Meh, it’s fine, I do development for a living now, and get to do the cutting-edge stuff that I want to.

              1. My DB class was great. Really pounded in the relational aspect of it. Didn’t get much OO though. I’ve had to learn that on my own.

          2. I helped a buddy who was going to school for IT with some classes he was having problems with. These were higher level classes, too. I already knew all the answers because I had actually done the things they were talking about.

          3. A BS just proves you can think to the employer. My lasers and materials degree is super useful to me now that I write VHDL.

      2. You can do great in IT without a degree if you stick to small business. Hell, I’m an IT manager right now. (why do you think I have so much time to comment here?)

        Problem is, you can make good money in small business IT, but not GREAT money. I want six figures. A few large corps aren’t far from my house and they pay fantastically. They won’t even talk to me for a helpdesk position because I don’t have a degree. I like the slow pace of small business IT, but I get bored too easily and I have to work with ancient technology.

        1. Do you have certificates? In my experience those usually trump degrees. Not just MCSEs though, those are a dime a dozen.

          1. No certs, either. Just haven’t taken any. I’m completely self taught.

            At my last job, the guy before me had a masters in CS and a whole wall full of certs. Within months of me taking over, I had fixed several issues that had gotten the best of him, upgraded several systems (while saving money), and generally kicking ass. I found out from the old guy what his salary was, it was almost double mine. I went to my bosses and demanded a raise and they said they wouldn’t because I didn’t have a degree, so I’m not worth as much. Seriously.

        2. I know a guy making 6 figures in IT with about 1 year of college. He has headhunters giving him unsolicited offers. He is 29 and I dont think has ever stayed at the same job for 2 full years.

          Apparently he is just that freaking good.

          1. I’m 34, with a lot more than 1 year of college before dropping out, but more or less in the same spot. Headhunters every few months. Longest I’ve stayed at one company is 3.5 years. Right at 6 figures with excellent benefits (think cadillac tax health insurance.)

        3. Um, I don’t have a degree and am not even a programmer (QA, albeit with suffucient coding skills to be really good at test automation) and I’m making $125k

      3. You too can be like Edward Snowden…

  4. I would like to know what percentage of these student loans are for “living expenses”, and how much is for the actual, you know, learning n stuff.

    An ex of mine has over $200K in student loan debt but I know for a fact a decent chunk of that debt were funds that were used to pay for rent, food, “living expenses” etc, which is ridiculous.

    Perhaps there need to be restrictions on these loans to prevent them from being used for non-educational items, and then you can BK the stuff that was.

    1. Use of student loans to buy cars, pay for weddings, etc. is not only rampant, it may be more common than not. After all, a lot of kids have pre-paid, scholarships, some parental support, and/or jobs. If you’re attending a state school, that should be enough.

      On top of that, they need computers, smartphones, and God knows what else.

      1. Pay for WEDDINGS?

        See, this is the crap I’m talking about.

        I didn’t have a ton of sympathy for the folks with massive student loan debts in the first place, since they signed a loan saying they would pay back the money in exchange for the opportunity to get a degree. But I have much LESS sympathy if they spent a chunk of the money on things that had nothing to do with the degree.

        This makes the student loan no different than a regular loan.

        1. My wife has a former co-worker who did exactly that. Bought a new car, too.

        2. I once knew a guy who was homeless and on welfare, got student loans to go back to school, then promptly spent the money to pay for a trip to Gen Con and dropped out of school

      2. Indeed. Having been through the process myself it is shockingly easy to get thousands of dollars in excess of your tuition that you don’t really need. Anything in excess of your tuition gets transfered straight to your bank account. The student loan program makes very little effort to find out what you are spending the money on and what your realistic living expenses actually are.

        1. They would if repayment wasn’t guaranteed.

    2. I had a roommate and friend that would have awesome booze and spending benders when the student loan checks came in. I assume he’s still paying on them.

      Student loans in, time for a new laptop!

      1. Ditto one of my roommates. And, to tell the truth, I’d encourage that: “Dude, you just got that check–how about a keg party?” My senior year was epic for parties. We had hundreds of people crammed in (and outside of) a two-bedroom townhouse.

        He lived on canned, no-name pork & beans. I once suggested, only half-kidding, that he buy bags of dog food to live on.

        1. A can of tuna flavored cat food is more expensive than a can of tuna. And I’ll bet a can of dog food is more expensive than no-name pork & beans.

          At least at my supermarket.

      2. Feast or famine. The early January run of ramen and Olde English preps you to gorge when the checks come in.

        1. I had fun going from getting paid weekly to bi-weekly. That was a definite feast/famine.

          Just got paid! Steak and Beer

          3 days to payday. Ramen. Maybe two beers.

          1. I like monthly pay.

  5. my old boss is sending his daughter to the local private catholic college. Yearly tuition (with board) is expected to be $36k a year.

    With scholarships, etc, she can lower it to ~$25k. So if she’s lucky and gets through in four years, we’re talking roughly 100K of debt. I can’t imagine being 22 or 23yo and having that much money owed to anyone. Talk about a big drag on living – buying a house, car, or anything else.

  6. The problem is that we give people student loans to study ANYTHING.

    In a private market, banks would only lend money to study subjects that would give the student a shot at a decent-paying job.

    The government loan program lets you study whatever you want as long as you get at least certain minimum grades and don’t take too long. Which means you get a lot of kids taking mickey mouse classes for fun and ending up with useless degrees.

    If you wanted to make one simple sensible reform to student loan programs it would be to limit the amount of funding available for non-STEM degrees.

    1. Making them non-dischargable is part of the problem, as is subsidizing some loans. Take all of that away, and only degrees that pay will get loans (at least any sizable loans). And maintaining a GPA, etc. will be part of continuing to get loans.

      Yeah, that’s tough on people who truly crave low-income careers, but there are options–start in community college, attend state school, live within your means. It’s not really hard to do.

      1. Take that away and the only people getting loans will be people who can get someone to cosign for them.

        In other words, parents who have assets.

        1. Well, mostly, yes, but I think some lenders would risk making loans to performing students with marketable degrees. That was true even in the old days for some graduate degrees, for instance. And credit is generally much looser than it used to be–look at all of the unsecured credit on credit cards, for instance.

        2. That’s bull. My parents contributed very little to my college. Maybe $5-6K total over the first two years and none afterwards.

          I got through on a combination of saved money, scholarships and working 20-30 hours a week during classes, and then 50 hours a week every summer and during breaks. I lived in an incredibly crappy apartment with a non-existent roommate that cost me $125 per month. I ate a whole lot of free pizza from the place I worked and I always bought my used books the week of finals, the semester before I needed them. Then I sold my books the week before classes started at higher than what I paid (except for the one in four where the book was dropped).

          I never in my entire college life went on spring break. Every spring break I volunteered to work as many hours as possible and generally worked a double shift for the week.

          At the end of five years I had $7,000 in student load debt and a car that was falling apart. The car was replaced with a better used car and all the loans were paid off in a year.

          You can get through school with little to no debt, if you bust your ass, don’t buy much beer, don’t go on spring break and in general avoid anything that looks like fun. It costs money and keeps you from working. I’ve got no sympathy for those who had the time of their life, while I was busting my ass and are now crying about all the money they owe. Freaking bust your ass and pay it off.

          1. Excellent point.

            However, today’s young people don’t want to make the sacrifices you did to get through college. And, there are always politicians who feel their pain. Better to have someone else subsidize your education than to have to make sacrifices to get through school.

            This is why we have Obamacare. People who say they can’t afford health insurance drinks tons of booze, buy Starbucks lattee’s on a regular basis, eat out at nice restaurants, etc.. Of course, they could cut back on all those things and have enough money at the end of the month to buy a high-deductible plan. But, why do all that when instead the gov’t will subsidize their insurance?

          2. You sound like you were boring in college.

            I actually did something similar. I worked every week and summer for my engineering degree. Still came out with student loans, but it was only for books, tuition, fees, and those exam weeks that I couldn’t work more than a few hours. My housing, food, booze, and occasional road trip to a friend’s parents’ place was all funded by me working. My loans are very manageable and will be paid off in a few short years.

    2. How date you suggest accountability. You will stifle the little snowflake’s imagination.

  7. Indentured servitude is back, except instead of paying for passage to America, you’re paying for a piece of paper that allegedly gives you passage to the “American Dream” (house in the burbs, car, 70,000 per annum). Except it doesn’t, because it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.

  8. My stupid bitch of an ex wife ran up student loans for her BA at a private $$$chool, then paid a year on them and deferred them as she went to law school. Oh wait, it gets better, she dropped out of law school, went on long term disability, and got nearly $100K deferred on hardship.

    1. We’re training a large number of people in how to conduct scams. That’s one of the biggest growth areas in America today. Great idea.

  9. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed these concerns by saying that most of the money in the student-loan sector is federal money, which just means taxpayers ? rather than lending institutions ? will take the initial hit.

    Oh, so we’re all on the hook instead of just the people who volunteered to take on the risk. Yeah, that’s waaaaaay better.

  10. My wife and I had a combined 20K in student loans when we graduated. That was the max you could get in the 80’s — 2.5K a year.

    I was tough paying that back, but with 27.5K a year starting salary as an engineer we did OK. Note that I started at 9K a year higher than all the CIS majors I studied with. Big money back in ’85.

  11. Yet those of us who call for less government meddling and more private-sector discipline are the ones considered heartless.

    Intentions are all that matter to these people. There is literally no way of reasoning with these people until they develop their own reasoning faculties. Pathological altruism, I believe is what the whippersnappers are calling it these days.

  12. Perhaps the explosion in student loan debt is caused by people like me who went back to school because they could not find employment. Sort of like why food stamp expenditures have risen. Nope, gotta be that demonic Obama. Other things that go up in economic downturns: auto repairs (people fix cars instead of buying new ones), McDonalds (people who would rather dine at Applebees couldn’t afford to do so, so they went to McDonalds instead), and any kind of second hand market. In the meantime, expenditures on all kinds of things decreased. Auto manufacturers took it on the chin, as did any body involved in building construction, for starters. Those of you who miraculously made it through the recession unscathed should realize that we have recently been through one of the greatest economic downturns in US history, and then think, if you lost your job and COULD NOT FIND ANOTHER what would you have done.

    1. It’s not a question of why people are going back to school, it’s a question of whether or not the easy access to student loans is creating a load of people who won’t be able to pay back the debt.

    2. “Those of you who miraculously made it through the recession unscathed should realize that we have recently been through one of the greatest economic downturns in US history, and then think, if you lost your job and COULD NOT FIND ANOTHER what would you have done.”

      Same thing I did back in 2000 – 2002 when I was out of work for 20 out of 27 months, downscale my life borrow from family where possible, move to a place where there are jobs, and take any job no matter how far beneath me to get through

    3. Perhaps the explosion in student loan debt is caused by people like me who went back to school because they could not find employment.

      You couldn’t make money, so going into debt as a speculative gamble seemed like a good idea?

  13. The government gives money to colleges so they will in turn espouse the wonders and glories of the State. I remember taking a Humanities class at a local community college (yes I went the cheaper road instead of diving head first into massive debt at a four-year right out of high school) and one of our assignments had to do with ethics, and there was this real gem of a question: “What are the ethical issues associated with the Tea Party? With its members?” to which I answered with another question “What are the ethical issues associated with a public community college using public tax dollars to push a certain political agenda?” I actually got full credit on the assignment, go figure.

  14. Here comes good ol’ Sanny Claws,
    Slidin’ down the money troughs,
    Hippity hoppity xmas on its way.

    President’s from Illinois,
    Lootin’ the Treasury, Oh Boy,
    Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, lookin’ out my back door.

    Looks like there ain’t no tomorrow,
    Investors cry in sorrow,
    Politicians brag —
    “see, see, see, what we done done for ye”!

  15. If you think $$$ Lone Whacko’s story is incredible, or you are in awe of $$$ PaleFaces’s financial genius, or just sit back in amazement at the intelligent pronouncements of Sock Puppets, consider my Uncle Sam’s bastard child’s second cousin Helicopter Ben Bernanke, who has turned plant fiber and ink into $$Trillions$$ of dollars in purchasing power. All in his spare time. You can get in on this deal too.

  16. Hey Man, I got a fix! Too many college degrees chasing too few jobs? Just create yet more requirements for degrees, credentials, certifications, certificates, and licenses! You will not be allowed to scratch your own butt; that’s a dangerous medical procedure! You must go see a college-degreed butt-scratcher-ologist! Don’t worry, Obamacare will pay for it, and there will be TONS of jobs for certified butt-scratcher-ologists! ? These kinds of excellent solutions are brought to you by the Church of Scienfoology? To learn more, see ?

  17. Nice headline: shame about the substance! It seems to me that the economic crisis is going to keep us company for some time yet. I firmly believe that our politicians should address the issues with greater professionality. They should turn to professional economic crisis specialists. For example, the Orlando Bisegna Index, specialists in the economic crisis, apart from measuring the intensity of the economic crisis in many countries, have developed a program that has helped various counties with debt problems, business failures and unemployment.

  18. You offer some valid observations Mr. Greenhut, and one of them is that generous lending policies have underwritten both huge amounts of debt and increasing costs associated with tuition and fees. Two caveats are in order: Many for-profit colleges do not gouge students, nor are they any more mecenary in terms of specious spending practices than their not-for-profit counterparts. Second, under current law, colleges and universities cannot restrict the amount of student borrowing. Low cost institutions are often sought out by individuals who want to maximize the amount of surplus funds they can borrow, above the cost of attendance, and subsequently use that surplus to purchase cars, big-screen TV’s, spend spring break at Fort Lauderdale, or to pay off credit card debt. Congress needs to correct this issue in the process of HEA reauthorization next year (and the next). And the solution should not have the effect of discriminating on the basis of funding models. High performing institutions should not be penalized simply on that basis, nor should poorly performing institutions be spared the consequences. HBCU’s are among the worst performing colleges in the country, and this administration and the Congress need to deal with reality, absent preferential treatment grounded in socio-political expediency.

    1. Forgive me – what was I thinking with that last sentence! This administration and this Congress dealing with reality rather than accommodating socio-political expediency? It must have been something I had for lunch, or maybe I inhaled . . .

  19. Another consequence of student loans is that it encourages students to go into the wrong majors. The terms of the loans are the same regardless of what the student plans on studying. This wouldn’t be the case with private loans. Since a bank wants to make sure it gets its money back, it would naturally charge a higher interest or refuse to make a loan at all, for degrees for which there is a low demand.

    In a truly free market, loans for software engineer degrees would have better terms (because there is a demand for software engineers), than say, loans for interior design degrees. This would naturally make it easier for students to get degrees that they can use to actually get jobs.

  20. Due to easy rules some student adopt such type of loan unnecessary Lax student loans make it easier for colleges to spend money poorly. Loan $2500 here If the federal government provides a loan to virtually anyone who applies for one, then university administrations can spend foolishly.

  21. Student loans make it easier for colleges to spend money poorly. If the federal government provides a loan to virtually anyone who applies for one, then university administrations can spend credit check direct lenders Easy Credit Is Inflating a Massive Student Loan Bubble it is common issue in all over the country.

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